You can recognize him by his over-worn denim (but not the stylish kind) and by how his eyes dart towards the nearest exit when you mention the “s-word.” Yes, he’s one of those men afraid of shopping. Maybe he hates crowds, or is overwhelmed by the choices, or dreads the laser eye of the shopkeeper, but he’ll avoid replacing those jeans until the last possible moment.
Dr. Nadia Shouraboura had just such a shopper in mind when she conceived of Hointer, a men’s clothing shop that opened earlier this month in the University District. Hointer uses German robotic technology and a smartphone app to create a shopping experience that is speedy, no-hassle, and no-hassled (by the ubiquitous overly attentive salesperson). At Hointer, you can select clothes, try them on, and make your purchase without ever seeing a human being.
In its beta version, Hointer primarily stocks high-end denim and pants (over 150 styles) but recently launched tops as well, focusing on premium sweatshirts and hoodies. For example,they will carry the new line Rambler’s Way, which is temperature-regulating, organic wool comfortwear.
The apparel is strung to bars with carabiners in an easy-perusal display, which means no folding and unfolding in a big messy heap of sizes. After downloading the Hointer app, shoppers simply scan the bar codes and select their size, and robots will “teleport” the items to a fitting room within 30 seconds by dropping them down a chute with a “whoosh” sound. If a shopper decides against an item, he can drop it down a neighboring chute, and it will automatically be deleted from his virtual cart. If he wants a different size, he can request it on his phone from inside the fitting room. Then, he can pay for any clothing he wants by using a credit card scanner.
Shouraboura, who is the former head of Supply chain and Fulfillment Technologies at Amazon, is playfully secretive about her behind-the-scenes mechanisms. It could be wheels and levers, but for all we know, it also be a horde of special agent German robots, enlisted solely to deliver and put away clothes for Hointer shoppers. Shouraboura says only that it’s “all science, no magic.”
Along with the negligible social interaction, the efficient mystery robots are a key part of Shouraboura’s scheme to make buying clothes fun and approachable for the man who might shudder at the sight of a mall. Now, maybe he’ll even smile when you mention “shopping.”